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Nativity scene vandalized at Claremont church

December 29, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
A nontraditional nativity scene was vandalized at a Claremont church, and police are calling it a hate crime.

The nativity scene at Claremont United Methodist Church shows silhouettes of gay, lesbian and heterosexual couples holding hands. The vandals apparently didn't like the gay and lesbian part of the display.

The display has raised a lot of eyebrows in the neighborhood since it was put up on Dec. 11. On Christmas Day, members of the church found parts of the anchored-down display face down.

"I wasn't surprised," said John Zachary, the artist behind the exhibit. "I think that it troubled a lot of people."

Zachary said his nontraditional nativity scene wasn't something everyone wanted to see.

"I don't think it's appropriate, especially here in Claremont. It's not really well displayed. It's tasteless in my opinion," said Claremont resident Susan Harrison.

However, to Zachary, the whole point was to create something to provoke dialogue.

"What I've tried to do is to include the people who've been disenfranchised from the church and from the process," he said.

Zachary has done a nontraditional nativity scene for the Claremont Methodist Church for six years. This is the first time one of his renderings has been vandalized.

"There have been nativity scenes around God's presence and poverty, and the immigration issues we've been facing and war," described a the Rev. Sharon Rhodes-Wickett with Claremont Methodist Church.

Police say sometime between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, two of the 6-foot-by-8-foot light boxes depicting same-sex couples were knocked over and damaged. Authorities are investigating this as a hate crime.

The church and Zachary say they are not surprised that someone would act out violently against the display, and that it only makes the message more relevant.

"What it shows us is that this was exactly the right scene to put up," said Rhodes-Wickett.

"Darkness cannot overcome darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot overcome hate. Only love can do that," said Zachary, paraphrasing a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Authorities plan to look at surveillance video in order to track down the culprits.

If you know anything about this incident, you're asked to contact Claremont police.


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